Toward Becoming a Gospel Scholar
As the editor of BYU Studies over the past seven years, I have thought long and hard and almost daily about the characteristics of good LDS scholarship. In my view, all of the following characteristics are equally essential in the sphere of gospel scholarship: competence, thoroughness, honesty, accuracy, harmony, unity, charity, fairness, humility, and dedication. The objective of gospel scholarship is to embrace as a whole the fullness of all that we may know, through the use of all of our faculties, both spiritual and intellectual.
To a gospel scholar, truth is like any other tool: it can either be used to build up or to tear down. Thus, truth alone is not the objective of a gospel scholar, because knowledge and truth -- until put to some purposeful use -- remain morally inert. At the same time, a gospel scholar knows that, no matter how well intended or motivated, building on a sandy foundation will ultimately lead to collapse.
Basic Study Habits
So much for the general theory. What about the day-to-day reality? Becoming a good gospel scholar requires good gospel study habits. There is no getting around at. Maybe someday someone will learn how to download another's brains into someone else's brain computer, but for the time being we all must learn the hard way, one idea at a time. Here are a few suggestions that anyone can try.
Do a little bit every day. The scriptures distill millennia of experiences. Rome was not built in a day. This is a long-haul journey. Feeding the spirit every day is simply essential: some days it's snack food, and other days a gourmet banquet. But as Deuteronomy 6 says, you have to think of the scriptures every day: "Talk of them when thou sittest in thine house and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deuteronomy 6:7). It can't be optional or dispensable. Not if you want to get beyond junk food.
Have a pen and piece of paper with you everywhere you go. When I was in junior high school someone gave a talk in sacrament meeting about Thomas Edison, the great American inventor. The speaker told how he took a notebook with him everywhere he went, because he never knew when an interesting idea would occur to him. I wish more people came to church with a pen. We spend so much time and effort teaching one another that it is a tragedy when so many ideas go in one ear and out the other. I have a pretty good memory, but nothing beats writing it down. Jot down questions. Take down notes. Keep track of things you desperately want to remember.
Have a good place to study. The couch in front of the television set is probably not an ideal setting for gospel study. Your place of study needs to become a sacred place. This sanctuary is set apart. Guiding symbols should be visible. In my study, the face of Jesus from the painting of Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler hangs next to a statue of Socrates. And neither is very far from the refrigerator. Set things up to avoid distractions and interruptions, especially from the telephone. Other things can wait. Give your studies full attention.
Begin with prayer. It can be short, but you need to unwrap the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost will do for a gospel scholar what no rational process can: help you choose correctly the questions you should be asking, the topics that you should be focusing on, and the paths you should be pursuing.